Station Eleven

Imagine that a deadly flu took out most of the world’s population and now, as a result, people are forced to live without electricity, gas, or internet, and learn live off the land to survive. This is the premise of Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

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Station Eleven reminded me a lot initially of the (now sadly canceled) tv show Revolution. It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story, and the characters are traveling across the North American landscape with no electricity and no “United States”. In the novel’s case, however, the destroyed world is more of a background setting for an exploration of how humans have become disconnected from the natural world and how some interactions, moments, or choices can have an inexplicable lasting impact on someone.

The most interesting feature of the novel is how the story is told. Mandel jumps around constantly from moment to moment, and setting to setting. It feels almost carefree on her part, but you know it can’t be because it’s done in such a way that it’s not causing the reader to have to do any additional work, and everything makes sense. I don’t know how Mandel kept straight in her head what information she had and had not given away as she was writing, but she’s done a great job. You’re constantly waiting until the end to find out what happened in the future to the characters you’ve connected with in the pre-flu world and you’re wanting to know more about the origins of the people you’ve connected with in the post-flu world. It’s not a mystery novel, but as you read it feels like you’re following lots of mini-mysteries which are all these characters’ life stories and how their interactions, chance or otherwise, have profound effects on their lives.

Mandel really makes you think about how the world is structured today. We constantly hear about how much knowledge we have available to us in the information age, but we don’t often consider that just because it’s available to us, doesn’t mean we have it. All the tasks necessary to run our society are divided into separate careers. A banker probably doesn’t know how to hunt, a hunter probably doesn’t know how to generate electricity, an electrical engineer probably doesn’t know how to run a successful government, and a politician, whatever he or she may say, probably doesn’t know how to set up an efficient economy. We know we have all of this information available at our fingertips with the internet. But, if we lost that magnificent tool, the knowledge in today’s world is so subsetted that we’d probably be lost for a long time too.

Ironically, as I was reading Station Eleven, I kept coming across an ad on TV by America’s Natural Gas Alliance. It starts, “Someone once told me that working for the power company is a noble calling. I believe that it is. People don’t have to think about where their electricity comes from. They flipped a switch, and the light comes on. It’s our job to make sure that it does.” Obviously this type of system has helped our world develop much more quickly than if everyone tried to be knowledgeable about everything – there’s only so much information a human brain can hold. Nevertheless, reading this book made me think that it probably couldn’t hurt to learn a little more about how I get things like running water, electricity, food, and clothing!

All in all, I’d give this book 8/10 stars. It’s narrative is a little choppy (unexpectedly picks up and slows down through the book) but the style is unique and does work. The characters aren’t ones that will stick with you forever but their stories are engaging and will probably make you think about the interactions you have in your own life. Finally, if you, like me, are interested in the post-apocalyptic genre but can’t stand to read another book revolving around a sordid teen romance, then you should definitely check this book out!

Have you read Station Eleven or any other books by Mandel? What is your favorite post-apocalyptic or dystopian book? What do you think of the genre? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Harper Lee Novels

I’m trying a new type of post today. I’ve done People I Met posts (obviously) and some Places I Went posts, and today I’m going to start a series called Books I Read. I’ll be writing about books I bought, books I’m starting, and my thoughts after I have read them.

I grew up loving reading and I’m constantly trying to make more space for it in my life, so I think this will be a good way to make me read more – especially if other people get involved! I have added the Goodreads widget on the right side so you can see what I am currently reading. When I finish a book, I will publish a post on my review of it. Typically I am reading 2-3 books at once. Right now, for example, I am listening to New York: The Novel as my slower, travel/ work read on Audible, while I am about to restart To Kill a Mockingbird again as my quick, bedtime read. I’m always looking for new things to read (fantasy, fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction are all great) so please leave me your suggestions in the comments below!

Harper Lee is such an iconic author even though she only published one book in her lifetime!

Harper Lee is such an iconic author even though she only published one book until now!

Harper Lee’s second (secret) novel has just been released and it is a sequel to her acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, centers on a 26-year-old Scout and an aging Atticus. I originally read To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school or high school and I remember instantly thinking of it as one of the best books I had ever read. The story made you think, the characters were likable, and the prose was extremely well-written. Harper Lee holds a special place for me because she has the same birthday as my grandfather (April 28, 1926) who is also an author and the first storyteller in my life. It has been a long time since I read TKAM, though, and although I want to dive into Go Set a Watchman, I have decided to quickly reread the original book first.

There has been a lot of controversy over Go Set a Watchman being published because Ms. Lee’s decision to publish the novel (which she had written long ago) came after decades of vowing never to publish another book, and after she suffered a debilitating stroke. What do you think of Harper-Collins going ahead and publishing the book? I think that even if Ms. Lee did not originally want to share this new picture of her iconic characters with a larger audience, it’s alright to share it with them now. It has been so long since TKAM was published and the image of those characters as they were in TKAM is so ingrained in readers’ heads that I feel like it will never leave. Reading GSAW will just be like a bonus, the way JK Rowling continues to provide additional information about the Harry Potter universe. (Obviously Ms. Lee is providing us with a whole new novel, but I think it’s the same idea.)

Are you planning on reading Go Set a Watchman? If so, let’s read it together! I am hoping to finish rereading TKAM by Friday the 24th (I’ll tweet when I do), and then I’ll start GSAW right away. Let me know if you’re reading with me below, and also leave your thoughts on these books and suggestions for what I should read next! Thanks! 🙂